Though Real Student Rights does not have a collective position on the issue of segregation on campus, and seek only to expose the fact that Student Rights is a front group for the right wing think tank the Henry Jackson Society, it is interesting to note how Student Rights seems to have reinvented itself to wade into the debate.
Channel 4 News describes Student Rights here as a ‘student equality group’. This is an inaccurate description on two counts.
Firstly, despite its misleading name, ‘Student Rights’ has no student members and no links to any students union. That’s why the BBC recently corrected an article which similarly used an erroneous term ‘student group‘, after the Real Student Rights campaign pointed this out.
Secondly, Student Rights is an ‘anti-extremism’ group not an ‘equality’ group. That’s why, if you look on its website, the tagline under the origanisation’s name is ‘Tackling Extremism on Campus’. That’s why, under ‘About Us’ on its homepage, it says: ‘Student Rights exists to counter the long proven encroachment onto university campuses by extremist elements across the United Kingdom.’ That’s why the BBC replaced the description ‘student group’ with ‘a group which campaigns against extremism on campus’.
Real Student Rights has asked Channel 4 to correct its report as soon as possible, the same way the BBC did. We hope it won’t make the same mistake again.
Two further questions are raised by this, however.
Firstly, perhaps, even as an ‘anti-extremism’ group, Student Rights can and should be commenting on this issue? Is segregation not an issue of extremism? What’s interesting is that when headlines conflating the issues of ‘extremist speakers’ and gender segregation were criticised by students, Student Rights claimed that “at no point do we conflate the two issues”. And yet Student Rights director Raheem Kassam had, just three days before, told the Huffington Post that his organisation was seeking to “protect” students “from extremism, in this case in the form of segregation”.
Secondly, can we blame Student Rights for journalists mistakes? Well, we don’t know if Student Rights is deliberately misrepresenting itself to the media, or if the media are misinterpreting its role or nature due to its rather misleading name. What we do know, as has been pointed out in a Huffington Post blog, is that there is a history of errors in the media related to Student Rights material. Its reports, as well as its name, have arguably deliberately invited misinterpretation. This has led, for example, to The Times having to issue a correction to a front page story and the BBC drastically altering an article which was subsequently the subject of an upheld complaint since the original piece – based on allegations made by Student Rights was acknowledged to have been ‘misleading’.
Such a record might lead onlookers to suspect that Student Rights attempts to blame journalists for errors – and absolve itself of responsibility – are pretty rich, particularly given the fact that it appears to make no efforts of its own to correct inaccuracies.
The remarkable chameleon-like flexibility of Student Rights’ remit seems to allow it to bend to suit the occasion. (In the second BBC article mentioned, it was even described as an ‘anti-racism’ group!) The group’s contradictory statements on whether segregation is – or is not – an issue of ‘extremism’ (and thus of concern to a self-declared ‘anti-extremism’ outfit) suggest, at the very least, a lack of clarity about its policy and aims. It seems this is nonetheless secondary to its primary concern, which appears to be problematising Muslim students.